I’m Nicola and I’m a medical research scientist based in the UK and this year is my sixth year involved with the LPS program. A lab colleague suggested it to me during my PhD, as I was already heavily involved in outreach programs, and thought it would be something that would interest me. Most of the outreach activities I have done have been face-to-face, often going into school classrooms to deliver hand-on activities, so this has been a totally different (and very rewarding!) experience. I’ve been matched with 5 different pen pals so far, from California, Colorado and South Carolina. It’s always very exciting receiving a letter- I’m always keen to know what my pen pal has been doing and what they have been learning in science class.
I think a real strength of the LPS program is that it allows students to connect with scientists not only at an educational level, but also through discussing more broader interests. The letters I receive often have tales of what the student has been doing in their spare time and it’s good to be able to connect over shared interests and hobbies, especially as (as would be expected), not all of the students are entirely interested in the science that I work on. However, I never ceased to be amazed at the science questions asked in the letters- it’s great to see the curiosity and excitement that the students have for the topics that interest them. Being a part of the program has definitely helped me to improve my science communication skills, allowing me to learn how to better adapt my writing for younger age groups and to try and find new ways to engage students in science. LPS is also important to me as I myself was the first person in my family to go to university. Many LPS students will be first in their family to go to university, and I hope it helps being able to interact with someone who has been through that experience.
As with most things in life, not everything has run smoothly during the years I have been involved with LPS. One year, my pen pal was sadly affected by the wildfires in California and this year, my pen pal has withdrawn from the program as they have changed schools. There have also been some difficulties associated with the COVID pandemic. Also, with me being based in the UK, there have unfortunately been a few mishaps with the mail over the years! However, I really enjoy being part of the LPS community and very much look forward to being part of the program for years to come and interacting with new pen-pals!
Written by long-time pen pal Nicola Morrice, published March 5, 2021